After the game, p.4
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       After the Game, p.4
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         Part #3 of The Field Party series by Abbi Glines
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  when I was walking Bryony to the park. He had his answers. He believed me. But it meant nothing to me.

  “Well,” Mom said as she stared at me.

  “I’m sure Brady will get a good night’s sleep tonight. His football career is safe. Sir Lancelot can continue on his merry way, bringing joy to all,” I replied with a fake cheer in my voice.

  Mom’s smile fell into a frown. “Honestly, Riley, that’s not a healthy attitude. It took a lot of nerve for him to come here and talk to you. He’s the first one of your friends to believe you. That says a lot.”

  I stopped walking toward the hallway and turned back around. “My friends? Are you serious, Mom? They aren’t my friends. They were never my friends. Friends don’t turn on you like that. I have never had real friends. Ever.”

  “Honey, y’all were young,” she started, and I held up my hand to stop her.

  “No. Do not say that. We weren’t that young. We were going into the tenth grade. They all called me a liar. All of them. When I was hurt and terrified, they turned on me. All I had was you and Dad. I do not have friends. I never have,” I repeated.

  Mom leaned back on the sofa, resigned. “Okay” was her simple response. “I understand why you feel that way. I would too in your situation. Honestly when it all happened I felt like I didn’t have friends either. Everyone was different with me. As if they questioned your story too. It hurt, but I can’t imagine how much more it hurt you. If you aren’t ready for a friend or to trust someone, I understand. But one day you’re going to have to, Riley. One day you are going to need the courage to step out and let someone in. Human nature isn’t always pretty. You saw a very ugly side of it at a young age.”

  This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. But it had been a while. A year ago, a guy in the town we were living had asked me out on a date. He worked at the local movie theater, and I went there once a week to watch a movie after Bryony went to bed at night.

  I had stopped going to the movies after that. The idea of facing him or even trusting someone wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t desire the things I once had. I hadn’t wanted to date or get close to anyone.

  Mom didn’t get it. No one got it. I was tired of trying to get them to understand. I just needed to be left alone. I liked things as they were. Changing them now was pointless. I had a rhythm. Bryony was happy with our routine. My life as a social teen was over. I was a mom.

  Why couldn’t she just be happy for me? I had a plan for my future. Not all seventeen-year-olds could say that. I didn’t rely on a guy to make me feel important. That was also a solid check in my corner. So why did my mother think I still needed fixing? I was pretty damn perfect like this.

  “Good night, Mom,” I said before heading down the hallway to the bathroom. Where I would soak in the tub for an hour and read a book. That was all I needed tonight. I didn’t need friends. I had Bryony. She was my world.

  * * *

  “Momma.” Bryony’s soft voice was in my ear. “Momma.”

  I opened my eyes to see my daughter hovering over my face.

  Stretching my hands over my head, I smiled up at her. “Good morning,” I said.

  “Gan’mamma gone,” she replied, frowning.

  That took me only a second to sink in before I sat up and swung my feet over the side of the bed and jumped up. Bryony scrambled down beside me.

  “Do you mean she left the house?” I asked her.

  Bryony nodded. “Her go park?” she asked hopefully. Bryony woke up wanting to go to the park. It was a daily thing. I hoped I was misunderstanding her and my grandmother was still in this house. My heart was beating frantically regardless as I jerked on a pair of shorts and ran down the hallway toward the kitchen.

  “Grandmamma!” I called out loud enough so I she could hear me anywhere in the house.

  No response. “Grandmamma!”

  Why hadn’t Mom woken me up this morning? This wouldn’t have happened if I had been awake.

  “Gan’mamma,” Bryony called out behind me. “You go park?”

  I turned to look in the living room, and the front door was wide open.

  “Oh God,” I whispered then reached for Bryony, picking her up and running outside at the same time.

  This could not be happening. My grandmother could have gone anywhere. She couldn’t remember anything, much less directions. And I was supposed to be watching her. Why had I slept late?

  I buckled Bryony into her stroller. She was still in her pajamas and needed a diaper change, but there was no time for that. I had to find my grandmother.

  I shared a car with my mom. She had it at work this morning. So we would have to search on foot. My phone was still inside, beside the bed, and I would have to leave it there because there was no time to lose. Running barefoot in the tank top that I’d slept in and a pair of cut-off jean shorts, I ran toward the street pushing Bryony.

  Stopping, I looked both ways, not sure which way to go first.

  “Dat way, Momma,” Bryony said, pointing to the right toward town.

  “Did you see her leave?” I asked Bryony.

  She nodded. “Gan’mamma dat way.”

  I kissed her little blond head in gratitude and started running down the sidewalk toward town, praying I found her before something bad happened. I would set my alarm for five in the morning from now on. Never again would this happen. Never again.

  We’ve Got Workout in Five Minutes

  CHAPTER 10

  BRADY

  As I reached for my protein shake, something caught my eye and I slowed my truck down. It was Riley and Bryony running down the street. I turned back around at the stop sign. That hadn’t looked like a morning exercise run, and I knew Riley stayed with her grandmother in the mornings. Especially this early. It wasn’t even seven yet.

  Pulling up beside them, I rolled down my window. “Everything okay?” I asked.

  Riley turned her head toward me, and there was a frantic look in her eyes. “No, my grandmother is missing.”

  Shit.

  “Get in,” I told her. “I’ll help you look.”

  She shook her head. “That’s not safe for Bryony. She should really be in a car seat.”

  Good point. It wasn’t raining today, and the threat of lightning didn’t outweigh the need for car safety. So I pulled ahead into the service station and parked the truck. Then I ran over to catch up with her.

  “What are you doing?” she asked, sounding frustrated.

  “I’m going to help you look. Where have you already searched and where should I go check?”

  She stopped running then and took several deep breaths. “Why are you doing this?”

  “Because your grandmother has Alzheimer’s and is missing. You need help finding her.” I would have thought the answer was obvious.

  “Someone could see you with me. It’s that time of day when everyone is headed to school.”

  “Where do I look, Riley?” I repeated, annoyed with her comment. I understood why she thought that, but it stung to hear her say it. I didn’t want to be that guy. The one who cared what everyone else thought.

  “Fine. I was going to the park because Bryony thinks she may be there. Could you go to the grocery store?”

  “On it. I’ll meet you back at the park,” I told her and took off running in the direction of the grocery store. I wondered if she’d called her parents yet. If we didn’t find her grandmother in the next fifteen minutes, I would ask.

  The manager, Mr. Hart, saw me run inside and smiled. “Need something this early?” he asked.

  I shook my head. “No, Mrs.—uh, Lyla Young’s mother is missing. Have you seen her in here this morning?”

  Mr. Hart’s eyes went wide. “Amelia? Good Lord, she has Alzheimer’s” was his response.

  “Yeah, she does. Have you seen her?”

  He shook his head. “No, but I’ll make some calls and keep my eyes open.”

  “Thanks,” I replied then hurried back out t
he door and headed for the park. Maybe the little girl had guessed right. I sure hoped so.

  “Brady! Man, what are you doing? We got workout in five minutes,” West called out from his truck.

  “I’m helping Riley find her grandmother. She’s missing. Tell Coach I’m sorry and I’ll be there soon as we find her.”

  West frowned. “Riley Young?” he asked as if I had just said something insane.

  “Yeah,” I replied and kept running. I didn’t have time to defend myself. He could be judgmental if he wanted to. That was something I was going to have to deal with if Riley ever decided to let me be her friend.

  “Doesn’t her grandmother have Alzheimer’s?” he called out after me.

  “Yeah, she does.”

  I didn’t look back as I answered.

  It wasn’t until I got to the park to see Riley running back out of it while pushing the stroller that I heard footsteps behind me.

  I turned to see West. What the hell?

  “What are you doing?” I asked, confused.

  “Helping. Where have y’all not looked?” he asked.

  This was a turn of events I didn’t expect. “Only checked the park and grocery store.”

  Riley looked even more terrified than she had when I first saw her. “She’s not there,” she said, her gaze darting to West then back to me.

  “Mr. Hart is looking around for her too. He’ll have the whole town aware she’s missing in no time. Have you told your mom?”

  She shook her head. “No. I left my phone at the house because I was in such a big rush.”

  I slid my phone out of my pocket and handed it to her. “You’d better call.”

  She took the phone, then I turned back to West. “Go check the post office and ask at the pharmacy,” I told him.

  He nodded and turned to jog toward the main street.

  “Why’s he here?” she asked, frowning.

  “He stopped to help.”

  She looked as surprised as I had been. I had a feeling Maggie was to thank for his help. The West before Maggie wouldn’t have stopped. He’d have told me I was an idiot and gone to practice.

  “Mom, it’s me. I’m using Brady’s phone. No, he’s not at the house. No, I’m not. That’s the thing. No. Just listen. She’s missing, Mom. I woke up before seven and the front door was open.” Tears filled her eyes. “And we’re looking for her.”

  She sniffled and wiped at the tears beginning to roll down her face. “Yes. The park, the grocery, and West is checking the post office and the pharmacy.”

  She paused and her gaze jerked back up to meet mine. There was hope there. “I hadn’t thought of that. We’ll go there now. Okay, I will.”

  She hung up and handed me the phone. “The church. She went missing once before, right after we moved back here. It was when we realized she could never be left alone. She went to the church, then forgot where she was and why she was there.”

  She began pushing the stroller and running again.

  “You run and I’ll push the stroller. We will follow,” I told her, knowing she needed to get to the church.

  “Thank you,” she said as she bent down to kiss Bryony on the head and told her to be good and that she’d be right ahead of us.

  She was off sprinting toward the small Baptist church in town. It was one of three churches. At least they knew which church to check. I followed quickly behind her, hoping we found her grandmother and she was all right.

  You Do Remember Who I Am, Right?

  CHAPTER 11

  RILEY

  Her white hair was the first thing I saw as I ran up the church steps. She was out at the cemetery to the left of the building. I turned and made my way back down the steps and out to where she was wandering around. The relief at seeing her made my eyes fill up with more tears. My heart was still racing, and I doubted that would slow down quickly.

  “Grandmamma,” I called out, not wanting to startle her.

  She paused and looked up at me, her eyes full of the confusion I so often saw there. She didn’t respond but continued to watch me.

  “Grandmamma, what are you doing?” I asked, careful not to scold her for leaving the house because the doctors said she wouldn’t understand when she did something wrong or remember it next time.

  “I think . . . ,” she began, then trailed off and let her gaze scan the graves around her like she wasn’t sure what she thought.

  “Did you get lost?” I asked trying to sound casual and not frantic.

  She turned back to me and nodded.

  “Well, good news is I’m here to take you home. Mom will be here in just a minute and she’ll give us a ride. Then I can make you some breakfast. Don’t you want something to eat? You’ve got to be starving.”

  Again she nodded.

  I heard Bryony call, “Momma,” from behind me and I let out another sigh to try and calm myself before turning to her and Brady. I owed him a big thank-you for helping. It wasn’t expected.

  “The baby’s here,” Grandmamma said.

  “Yes, she’s here too.”

  “She needs to eat breakfast. I was going to fix her oats and strawberries,” Grandmamma said.

  “That’s a good idea. We need to get home first, though.”

  Brady and Bryony stopped beside me, and I smiled at him. “Thank you for your help. She’s okay,” I told him, although that was kind of obvious.

  He nodded. “I’m glad. I’ll go tell West. Do you need a ride or anything?”

  I shook my head. “Mom’s on her way.”

  “Okay. Well, I’ll see you around,” he said, then gave my grandmother a smile before leaving us there and heading back toward town and his truck.

  “Bye-bye,” Bryony called out after him.

  He paused, then turned back and flashed her with a grin that I will admit was hard not to get a little fluttery over. Then he waved at her before once again walking away.

  “Why are we here?” Grandmamma asked me.

  “I think you must have come out for a morning walk and didn’t tell me. We don’t need to do that anymore. If you want to walk, I will go with you,” I told her, knowing that was pointless. She’d forget this happened any minute now.

  “Go to pawk.” Bryony added her suggestion with a clap of her hands. She’d not been happy that we had gone to the park and not stayed.

  “Later today. First we have breakfast to cook. Aren’t you hungry?”

  That got her attention. She nodded her head just as Mom pulled up.

  * * *

  I didn’t let Grandmamma out of my sight for the rest of the morning. From now on, Mom agreed she’d make sure I was awake and out of bed before she left the house. By the time I was able to take Bryony to the park I was so emotionally exhausted that all I did was sit and watch her play. I normally played with her, but today I didn’t have it in me. I just needed to sit and stare.

  Several things had been running through my head since this morning’s scare. First of all, Brady helping me like he did. I had said I didn’t need a friend, but today I’d needed one, and he had come through.

  Second, the fact that West had jumped in to help. West Ashby wasn’t known for his chivalry. I wasn’t sure what had gotten into him. I knew Brady had power with the football team, but from what I remember, West Ashby wasn’t one to easily be swayed. He hated me. Just like the rest of Lawton High School.

  And this town.

  Bryony had taken a liking to Brady. That wasn’t unusual, though. She liked just about everyone. Still, hearing her tell him bye today had struck a chord with me. Could I be friends with him? Did he actually want that? Did I actually want that?

  “How are things at home? Is your grandmother okay after this
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